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07.04.2009

Independence for the Modern Wine Drinker

Happy Independence Day from the United States, where we're celebrating the historical casting off of the "chains" in which our "colonial rulers" bound us. As the fireworks burst and crackle unseen through the fog here in San Francisco and I catch up on my reading from around the blogosphere, I've been musing on whether the average wine drinker has anything to celebrate in the way of independence these days.

The first and most dear form of independence for me as you might imagine is the freedom from dependence on the Powers That Be for information, opinion, and insight when it comes to wine. While Tom Wark, in a fit of bourbon-addled self-loathing, may have decided that Wine Blogs Dont Matter, in point of fact, never before in history have there been so many great places to read to your hearts content about wine for free. From the blogs of the world, to the tasting notes available online, to the zany antics of my buddy Gary and his legions of imitators, a new generation of wine lovers finds itself honestly unshackled from the ParkTator for the first time.

We all have an extra $49.95 a year to spend on wine, and a way to waste thousands of hours that should be spent drinking instead of surfing. Oh well. It's a start.

Intellectual liberation is just the start however. Psychotic state legislatures and dumb-ass circuit courts of appeal notwithstanding, we are entering an age where wine lovers have better access to the wines of the world than ever before in history. While I am no doubt waaaay premature in declaring independence from the yokes of corrupt, parochial, and/or moralistic government and judicial influence over how and where we buy our wine, as a wise man once said, "The times they are a-changin'."

Interstate shipping aside, we U.S. wine lovers would do well to celebrate our independence from monotony and monopoly when it comes to the selection of wines available between our shores. The sheer diversity (and volume) of different wines from different regions of the world that are now at our fingertips, thanks to the efforts of importers, is staggeringly awesome in comparison to even 30 years ago. To give you some perspective, I was recently reminded that 30 years ago you could count on two hands the number of restaurants in this country that had Spanish wines on their wine list. Being a wine importer has suddenly become a fashionable and fun thing to do in the last decade, and there are hundreds of people eagerly following in the footsteps of pioneers like Kermit Lynch and Terry Theise to seek out great new wines and producers and bring them to us to enjoy.

All that said, we could do with a few more manifestos against, and independence from, a bunch of things that still continue to oppress us in the wine world. So in keeping with the principles of the founding fathers, here is a Declaration of Further Independence for the enlightened wine lover.

When in the course of our evolution as wine loving people, it becomes not only necessary but natural to throw off the bonds of ignorance, precedence, class, and the wisdom of the Establishment, in order to forge a more perfect relationship with our chosen beverage, a decent respect for history and tradition requires that we declare the reasons for our rebellion.


We hold these truths to be self evident: that every adult, 21 years of age or older, is endowed with the capacity to appreciate and enjoy wine and should have every opportunity to do so, free from the abuses and oppressions of an Establishment that seeks to impose the traditions of the past on a changed world. The history of this Establishment is one of privilege, prejudice, and a smug propriety that terrorizes new wine lovers into conforming with its demands rather than choosing a natural path to their own enjoyment.

It is with necessity, then, that we submit that the following fallacies and prescriptions, ideologies and traditions, fears and insecurities, shall no longer bind our actions and dictate our fates as wine lovers:

We will drink wine out of whatever damn vessel we choose, and refuse to purchase, own, or believe that we need different shapes of wine glasses in order to enjoy different kinds of wine.

We will stop believing that just because a wine received less than 90 points from Someone Whose Name We Have Heard of, we will not fully enjoy, even love it.

We will stop thinking that we need to know anything about wine to enjoy it or drink it on a regular basis.

We will no longer live in fear of being asked to choose a wine from a wine list, and will instead ask questions, like rational human beings, of the restaurant staff if we need help selecting a wine for dinner that is in our price range.

We will stop believing that there is an Ideal Wine Pairing for every kind of food and that the matching of wine and food is an art that requires deep knowledge and experience unpossessed by the average wine drinker.

We will no longer be afraid to buy wines that don't have the name of a grape that we recognize on the label, or have words that we cannot possibly pronounce on them.

We will cease our misguided historical beliefs that wines closed with a screwcap must be inferior, and that a wine which is organic must taste vile.

And we will, above all, refuse to entertain the idea that wine, especially Champagne, is a drink for special occasions and will instead drink more and more often of all manner of wines -- so that we may enjoy our lives, our meals, and our friends with greater pleasure and health.

We, therefore, the representatives of a new generation of wine lovers, do solemnly publish and declare ourselves separated, independent, and divorced from these oppressions of the past and the Establishment which perpetrated them. As free and independent wine lovers we have the power to forge our own paths in the world of wine, seeking our enjoyment and education however, whenever, and wherever we see fit, as free men and women ought to do with wine glass in hand.

* * *

If you agree, put your John Hancock here _________________.

Great. Now go out, blow some shit up, and then sit down and have a nice glass of wine with friends and toast your independence. I'm toasting mine right now.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.